The Irish Times view on new jobless figures: paying a heavy price

About one in five of the workforce is currently out of work or relying on State supports

In the weeks ahead, much will depend on the lifting of Level 5, what new rules are in place and whether a further tightening of restrictions is needed in 2021. Photograph: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

In the weeks ahead, much will depend on the lifting of Level 5, what new rules are in place and whether a further tightening of restrictions is needed in 2021. Photograph: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

 

The latest figures on the Irish jobs market underline the significant impact of the pandemic and the lasting impact it will have on many lives. A huge policy challenge lies ahead in addressing this. The move to Level 5 has pushed many back on to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) for a second time. While the latest rise in those on the PUP is a bit less than expected, the numbers currently out of work or relying on State supports are still around one in five of the workforce.

It is difficult to get a clear picture of the real level of unemployment, as we do not know how many of those on the PUP will return to employment. Many will, though after the last lockdown there were still some 200,000 left on the PUP. This started to rise as restrictions tightened and the move to Level 5 appears to have added around another 100,000, a high figure, though a bit less than might have been feared. Many jobs are being supported by wage subsidies and some of these could yet come under threat.

A better measure of what is going on may be provided by looking at the total number of hours worked. It shows that the total in the third quarter of this year was 5.4 per cent down on the same period last year. This was a big drop, though well up on the 22 per cent annual fall during the second quarter. The latest restrictions will have led to a bigger fall-off in hours again.

In the weeks ahead, much will depend on the lifting of Level 5, what new rules are in place and whether a further tightening of restrictions is needed in 2021. But the economic price already, particularly for those who had been part-time employees, is clearly evident in the latest data.

Meanwhile it is clear that the lasting damage will require a significant policy response through supports, education and training, job placements and other labour market policies. We can be confident that, given the opportunity, the Irish jobs market can bounce back, but many of those who have lost their jobs – particularly younger employees – will require support and help to avail of the opportunities.

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